Can ‘MoLit’ be Mashed?

First edition cover, Pride and Prejudice and Z...
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OK, so I recently came across a notice for Android Karenina, apparently the latest pastiche in the wave that began with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and includes titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and my favorite title, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim.

So, of course I began to wonder if Mormon titles could be used to create the same kind of work. Will Mormon eventually join this trend?

I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I’m not sure how well these derivatives work. They are often called “mash-ups,” but I don’t think they technically meet the definition, since mash-ups generally include pieces from multiple works and very little that isn’t derived from elsewhere; what used to be called a collage. These works, in contrast, are a single original work combined with new writing from a single author; more like a simplified, open version of the French surrealist game, Exquisite corpse (well, maybe not). But, I must admit, I’m not sure that a true mash-up could even work in literature. Could an author/editor really pull individual paragraphs from any different works and make them work together?

What is unusual with the ‘zombie’ derivatives is not, of course, the fact that they are derivative. Even among the finest literature, producing derivative works has been very successful (Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead comes to mind very readily). And the language of criticism has developed a host of terms to refer to different kinds of derivative works–sequels, prequels, fan fiction, etc. Popular and noteworthy works are regularly condensed, augmented, segmented, use the same setting, mimic the plot, employ the same characters, and expanded ad nauseum. There is even a significant portion of copyright law that is devoted to when these kind of works require the author’s permission.

I think what makes these works so popular is simply the shocking contrast between the original work and the genre it is being transformed into. Could any two genre’s be more different than 19th century drawing-room romances (and other classic genres) and zombie fiction? That may well be why these seem to work, and have attracted so much attention — the novelty of this combination drives the attention these works are getting.

Of course, genre might be best thought of as an indication of a work’s target audience, rather than any indication of how seriously a work can be considered. Which may mean that this combination could attract new readers to each genre. That might make writing this kind of work very interesting — even to Mormon authors.

What gives me pause about using this form of writing in a Mormon context is how the LDS audience might respond. If someone writes Nephites and Zombies, a “mash-up” of the Book of Mormon, would LDS audiences want to read it? Or would it attract fans of Zombie fiction to reading the Book of Mormon?

Derivative works from the Book of Mormon do exist, of course. The first performed Mormon play, Corianton, is based on the Book of Mormon, as are many other works written during the past roughly 110 years since then. In fact, the principle sources for creating derivative works in Mormon literature are the Book of Mormon and stories from LDS Church history (remember that whole Work and the Glory series?), chiefly because they are so familiar with the Mormon audience. Even the once wildly successful Added Upon and its Saturday’s Warrior derivative aren’t nearly as familiar with LDS audiences.

But the status of the Book of Mormon, and the mythology we connect with  LDS history might make using them as the source for a “mash-up” problematic. On the other hand, even the New Testament has been used for derivative work (Ben Hur is, of course, derivative), its only when the derivative seems disrespectful of the source that objections arise, such as with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Even putting derivatives of Mormon works in wildly different genres has worked when the sources have been respected, such as Orson Scott Card managed with his Homecoming Saga and Red Prophet series. But then again, these series weren’t as well known among the LDS audience (they’ve never really been sold in LDS bookstores as far as I’ve ever seen) and on the surface didn’t seem as radical a reworking as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

So, it would be interesting to see someone pull off a radical pastiche like this current literary fad using a Mormon source. I’m still on the fence about whether or not it would be successful.

Perhaps more interesting would be a “mash-up” that creates a Mormon work out of a classic — something that would draw non-Mormon audiences into the Mormon worldview. A Mormon author might feel much more comfortable in that attempt.

So, I’m looking forward to reading Sense and Sensibility and Sister Missionaries.

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31 thoughts on “Can ‘MoLit’ be Mashed?”

  1. Not to beat my own chest about this, but I think I’ve pretty much proven the equation already: Mormon fiction + Vampires – TBMs (- sex) = Oodles of cash. Mormon fiction + Vampires + TBMs (+ sex) = He’s a witch! Burn him!

    To be sure, considering the number of people who hated Angel Falling Softly without reading it, it probably wasn’t a statistically significant sample.

    But undeterred, my next novel will include lots of TBMs, a GA, a Buddhist priest (and part time alchemist), a magical Hindu serpent (who’s also in charge of Hades), a murderous samurai, time travel, the many-worlds hypothesis, reincarnation (and sex).

    Hey, as long as I’m still smoldering, I might as well set all of my bridges on fire.

  2. .

    I don’t think it’s that unlikely.

    Also, all of Moriah’s books are based on something prior (the ones in print: Hamlet and Gift of the Magi).

    And I know of another (unpublished) Mormon Hamlet as well.

    I suspect they’re not terribly uncommon, just less blatant.

  3. I’m sure I didn’t make it clear enough, but to me the more interesting idea is what the Pride and Prejudie and Zombies books did — use the actual text of a prior book as a major portion of the new work.

    So, Eugene and Moriah aren’t doing this.

    Yes, derivative works aren’t uncommon. But actually using the text of a previous work for a large portion of the new work IS rather uncommon.

    So, if you are about to write Sense and Sensibility and Sister Missionaries, that’s the real challenge.

  4. .

    I understood your thoughts, Kent.

    And I am considering it.

    think think think

    No way would I do it with a novel, but a short story might be fun.

  5. Kent’s right about what I do/don’t do.

    I’m not into pastiches of other people’s characters, either reading or writing. I can SAY I based mine on Hamlet, Gift of the Magi, and The Gospels all day long, but unless you’re even vaguely familiar with those works, you’re not going to get it. (A Pagan type who’s been reading snippets of Magdalene has completely missed what I thought was pretty blatant allegory because she has no frame of reference for Christian myth. One of my [two] Jewish readers are the same way.)

    I took the basic premise of Hamlet, threw out 3/4 of the characters, and built a romance/family saga. I didn’t plop evil time-traveling space aliens into the court of a 17th-or-whatever-century Danish king bent on spawning a hybrid race with Gertrude*.

    The PP&Z types mystify me, much the way fan fiction (which I didn’t know existed until a couple of years ago) mystifies me. Why would anyone take characters of someone else’s invention and reconstruct their world? I’m not making a value judgment; it just…mystifies me.

    I don’t even really LIKE Hamlet. Or the rest of the oeuvre.

    *Although now that I’ve thought of it…

  6. Hey, as long as I’m still smoldering, I might as well set all of my bridges on fire.

    I’ll save a space for you at my table on the not-the-cool-kids side of the cafeteria.

  7. Kent, shame on you.

    Now I thought of “Charly and Sam: Paranormal Investigators.” Ectoplasm! Giant marshmallow men! Talking dog-like gargoyles!

    Don’t cross the streams!

  8. Shame on me? Really? Just for talking about whether an idea might work or not?

    I like the paranormal investigators book. But you’ll face the copyright problem if you want to use any of Weyland’s text.

  9. My sister wrote a version of P&P from Darcy’s POV out of her frustration with Darcy-centered fan fiction–and even commercially published novels–that turn him into the stereotypical alpha male extrovert, when he’s an introvert who overthinks everything. If you’re curious, I’ve posted it here.

  10. A Winchester-wielding American cowboy was in Bram Stoker’s original Scooby Gang. Stoker called him Quincey Morris, and claimed that he died after the final confrontation with the Count. But we know his real name, and his story is just begging to be told: Orrin Porter Rockwell, Vampire Hunter.

  11. Anneke, I haven’t seen the Pride and Prejudice movie. I assumed it was the book and didn’t have any changes to make introduce new elements at all, let alone Mormon elements.

    But your comment does seem to indicate that there were Mormon elements. Did they make many changes? or was it only superficial references like those you list?

  12. William, I do think that what we Eugene is talking about here would be good in Monsters and Mormons.

    BUT, its probably also good to recognize that (as I understand it) Monsters and Mormons doesn’t require modifying someone else’s work to make it Mormon (as we are focusing on here).

  13. I’m just the idea guy on this one (maybe when I have a free year to research it). The Wild Wild West-flavored episodes of Supernatural occupy this territory nicely, and would definitely benefit from some hard-core religion. High Plains Drifter would also be fun to recast in an eschatological Mormon context.

  14. .

    The Blacks’ P&P was a terrific movie. Thanks for the easter egg link. I’ve seen the flick probably a dozen times but not the more-Mormon original.

  15. Here’s my question: do you think that maybe a MoLit mashup is more difficult because most of the texts that are no longer under copyright are home literature type stuff? I mean, you could write zombies into _Added Upon_ but it would be so much more incongruous given the pedantic–yet sincere–feeling of the home lit genre. P&P is at least a bit subversive. Home lit, not so much. Although there might be a chance to write in some sort of creepy monster stuff with A Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the devil. . .

  16. Laura, I think that is a great point. Theoretically, of course, a “mash-up” could be written on more modern material (say, The Work and the Glory), but it might be hard or impossible to get the author of the original to agree.

    BUT, I don’t know that a mash-up has to be a monster/zombie or similar combination. Others are possible — science fiction, westerns, and others should be possible, shouldn’t they?

  17. You know, I haven’t read any of the mash-ups you mentioned, but I guess you’re right. I guess for it to be a clear mash-up you’d have to pick something iconic like sci-fi or westerns. None of that really feels like it would mesh with the Mormon aesthetic. The only thing I can think of is musicals–mashing a musical in with a Mormon novel would seem to work–except that the two forms are so different! It’s good food for thought. . .

  18. “It’s good food for thought”¦”

    Exactly. Thinking about this kind of thing has the potential to yield something truly fresh and interesting.

    Like Wm’s Mormon cyberpunk story that he wrote a few years ago (and which I can’t find for some reason).

  19. My daughter came home from the movies tonight shocked and surprised at the movie trailer she saw for the forthcoming film:

    Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

    I’m pleased that a movie is on the way.

    Perhaps this means that something from Monsters and Mormons would be interesting and viable on celluloid?

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